The right to learn

Access to university for people seeking asylum February 20, 2023

“It’s criminal. It shows a total lack of compassion. We let people seeking asylum live here but we don’t support them. We expect them to fend for themselves, but won’t let them get an education,” says Beverley Bossman, who is part of the ASC volunteer-powered university support team. 

Beverley is referring to the visa condition that requires asylum seekers to pay unaffordable international student fees at university while they wait for the government to resolve the outcome of their refugee protection visa applications. 

Many people in Australia have waited up to ten years for outcomes on their applications for refugee protection visas. During that time university is out of reach. However, this year twelve more students, seeking protection in Australia, will attend university with the assistance of asylum seeker scholarships offered by universities across Sydney. For the first time this will include a postgraduate student who had to go interstate to study because postgraduate scholarships aren’t available in NSW for people seeking asylum. The ASC university support team is proud to have supported them on their way.

Scholarship success

Niveadha is a student who was offered scholarships at three separate universities to study a Bachelor of Nursing. She has selected Western Sydney University (WSU) and is about to begin her orientation. WSU has also recognised Niveadha’s Diploma of Nursing, which will reduce her degree to two years. While she is studying she will support herself working as an Enrolled Nurse, a career which she is passionate about. 

“Education is the only hope I have in Australia. While my visa is hanging in limbo, education is my only hope,” she says. “Nursing is different from all other careers. I was working as an enrolled nurse during Covid-19 and the compassion that you can offer people is so important.” 

Niveadha has lived in Australia since she was eleven years old and although she was able to access high school with exemptions from fees, without the scholarship she would have had to pay more than $30,000 a year for university, while supporting herself as she lives independently. Her high academic results in the Diploma of Nursing and work experience may have been reasons why she was offered three of the competitive scholarships.

How the ASC helps students seeking asylum

Many scholarship applicants arrive in Australia as children and graduate school with their peers not knowing if they’ll be able to go to university.

The ASC university support team assists students with a range of help with transitioning to higher education. For some this means helping students find the right course and making a uni application when they may not be familiar with Australian systems. The team also reviews the students’ applications for scholarships including advice on personal statements and helping them prepare for interviews.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” says Beverley. “I wanted to volunteer when I retired and I can use my experience in the higher education sector to help people understand the systems.”

Some of the students are school-leavers who have recently completed the HSC, but almost half are mature-age students who are upgrading their qualifications or trying to be recognised with the qualifications they achieved in their home countries. All the students must also work to support themselves and often their families. Some also have children and caring responsibilities.

Niveadha says that her path to university has not been straightforward. “I applied and was knocked back twice before. I was unable to finish year twelve so it wasn’t simple,” she says. “I want people to know that if they don’t get into uni, there are other pathways. Year 12 and an ATAR is not the only way to get what you want.”

Want to learn more about scholarships?

If you’re a person seeking asylum who needs help applying for a university scholarship, get in touch with our team.

Learn more:

What are the changes to TPV and SHEV visas? Three remarkable women of the Asylum Seekers Centre community